Gabi Falanga

JOHANNESBURG: Attorneys across the country will be opening their doors to the public to draft basic wills for those who don’t have them.

National Wills Week, from today to Friday, is a Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) initiative which encourages people to not only ensure they have a valid will, but also to use qualified attorneys to draft them.

Sandton law firm Knowles Husain Lindsay is one of the establishments that will be participating in National Wills Week. The firm’s Alec Leicher said attorneys were qualified to draft and administer wills, and were therefore entitled to charge a person to draft one.

“Banks, for example, don’t charge to draft your will, so they will give you a free will, but will insist they’re the executor,” Leicher warns.

Executors are entitled to 3.5 percent of the gross value of the deceased’s estate.

“An attorney will put the executor as you want it because you’ve paid for his time.”

Having your will drafted by an unqualified person could also lead to disaster if it does not adhere to the strict requirements set out in the Wills Act.

“Non-compliance with the act (means) the Master (of the High Court) can’t accept the will.

“Then everything you’ve put in your will goes out of the window.”

In this case, the deceased’s estate will be treated in the same way as someone who died without a will.

Why have a will?

l A valid will allows you to state who should inherit your assets and property.

l You can choose an executor who’ll wind up your estate.

l It’s an opportunity to choose a guardian for your minor children.

l You can state your last wishes.

What happens if you die without a will?

The estate of a deceased person without a will is handled in accordance with the Intestate Succession Act, which states how your possessions must be distributed among your family.

“With a married person with children, the spouse gets a child’s share,” Leicher explains. If you have no spouse or children, the money goes to your parents in equal shares.

“If one parent is deceased, their share goes to that parent’s descendants. Write a will so that the people who you want to have your property, get your property.”

Not having a will also means it could take longer for an executor to be appointed, there could be extra and unnecessary costs, as well as conflict and unhappiness among members of your family because there are no clear instructions on how your assets should be distributed.

Unmarried people with a number of extended family members who depend on them financially should also ensure they have a will in place. Several people could make a claim on their estates, LSSA says.

How Wills Week works

Attorneys will draft free, basic wills for anyone provided they do not have a complicated estate and trusts.

Take your ID document and a list of what you own, and the approximate values with you to your appointment.

Make sure you have an idea of who must get what, who should be the legal guardian of your minor children, and what you want to happen to your body once you’ve died.

Also decide who should be the executor of your will, such as an attorney, a close friend or family member.

The appointment will last about 45 minutes.

It’s important to store the original in a safe place and to inform a trusted loved one about where it can be found when you die.

“The original must be given to the Master when you die,” Leicher said.

l Visit to find an attorney in your area participating in National Wills Week.

Make a file

Leicher suggested that people keep their wills in a file or folder along with other documents that might make it easier for the people left behind.

This could include a list of investments, assets and contact details of the executor dealing with the will. “When you die, what happens to your online life?” He suggests saving all passwords on a secure app and giving the app’s password to a trusted loved one.

“Then put a note in the file (saying): ‘Dad has my passwords, please close down my accounts’.”

A letter of wishes could be included in the file which explains to chosen heirs why certain items were bequeathed to them, or how you wish for them to use their inheritance.

“This is not a binding legal document, but it explains why you put something in the will,” Leicher says.

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